Economic Collapse in San Pedro
Walking down the streets of San Pedro this week, the usual buzz and banter of La Isla Bonita seems somewhat subdued, if not silent. It seems that while the global economic climate may be (arguably) improving, things on the Belizean Cayes are as desperate as ever.
Hotels are reporting lower than ever occupancy rates (except for Ramon’s, which is surprising given the hurried attitude one of its management staff has acquired towards public enquiries). And even those tourists that are still heading to San Pedro (despite the global downturn in tourism) are cutting back on expenses, including golf cart rental, excursions, fishing trips and diving expeditions, which all has a huge impact on the economy and ambience of Belize’s top tourist destination. Several shops and premises – even those on Front Street – are working on limited hours, even more so than the low-season usually warrants. From delicatessens to wood-carving specialists, from musicians to tour-guides, it seems only a lucky few have escaped near financial catastrophe this year. And with more than two months until the peak tourist season is scheduled to commence, several business owners are concerned that their financial situations may not carry them through until trade improves. Even worse is the ingrained fear that the upcoming tourist season may prove as disappointing as the last.
The island’s numerous supermarkets have reported dropping sales, suggesting that even basic grocery shopping is taking a hit, which points towards further social decay as people are apparently struggling to meet even their daily nutritional requirements. Yet with prices soaring across the country for basic staple foods, and San Pedro’s inflated prices due to added transportation costs, there is little wonder that people are ‘making do’ with the most basic of foodstuffs in order to stretch their dollar a little more in these hard times.
As if that were not enough, politically-ignited problems between the two major water taxi service providers over recent weeks has raised tensions between competing company employees, who are each required to hustle trade for their respective companies, regardless of the limited number of potential travellers within their midst. That aside, the third major water transport company on the island, The Thunderbolt, which runs passengers between Corozal and San Pedro, has been required to reduce its schedule by half due to insufficient customer demand, and now offers a mere one trip a day. This is just one such company that now has equipment (and staff) for which there is no job, which creates even greater strains on already floundering budgets and fading spirits.
Construction, which was booming on the island, continues to flounder as more and more menial labourers are sent home for the duration of the economic crisis; this has subsequent negative effects on towns such as Orange Walk and Dangriga which then suffer a population boom as its young male labour force returns home and join literally hundreds of other job-seekers roaming the streets (to very little avail, and very little sympathy from the government).
There were all sorts of opinions permeating from various strata of San Pedrano society this week: that the authorities have been naive in depending on tourism too heavily for too long; that the chain reaction of unemployment, desperation and crime is to be expected when Belizeans are forced to endure such longstanding economic crises; and that it is time the government accepted their own ineptitude in carrying Belize forward into a positive future, and let more capable leaders rule. http://www.belizetimes.bz/2009/10/16/economic-collapse-in-san-pedro/